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2 Finger Rule for Dog Collars

2 Finger Rule – Fact or Fiction

2 Finger Rule for WadeCollar
Click to Learn More About the WadeCollar

Dear John,

I have the Wade Collar which my dog trainer, Nancy Johansen, gave us when she helped us with our dog.  We have a 1 year 10 month old Staffordshire Bull Terrier.  As I’m sure you know, he is quite the little puller on the leash.  We found this collar really helped and he doesn’t seem to pull when he has it on.

Yesterday we went to the vet for just a regular check up and we had that collar on him.  The vet said it looks like that collar is too tight on him (2 finger rule) and to loosen it.  We had it right behind his ears and high up on his neck.  I am worried when we do have it on that it is too tight, but I thought that is the way it is supposed to be.  Could I get your thoughts/advice on this?

Danielle – Calgary, Alberta Canada

Hi Danielle,

I personally doubt that the 2 finger rule actually originally had anything to do with worry about collars being too tight as it doesn’t make sense on a lot of levels and doesn’t trump common sense.

I actually believe the 2 finger rule started for the complete opposite reason – concerns regarding putting collars on too loosely rather than rampant problems with ignorant dog owners unintentionally throttling their own dogs. In my experience people are far more likely to put flat collars on too loosely, which can and does result in dogs slipping their collars, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Somewhere along the line the “no more than” – two finger rule became the “at least” – two finger rule.

I personally don’t think it  makes any sense. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that even accidentally put a collar on too tightly and by too tight I mean the dog would be in distress from a respiration or other negative physical perspective. That would be hard not to notice and correct immediately. The feedback from the dog would be sufficient to alert a dog owner.

I’ve been working with dogs for 25 years, know a lot of trainers and a lot of veterinarians and vet techs and I’ve never heard of any injury caused by a collar that was too tight. Incorrectly used – yes, but the damage done was due to use of force, not collar snugness. If it has happened, it hasn’t happened in such numbers that I can imagine it inspired a 2 finger rule. There are cases of where dogs “grew” into collars and as I’ll mention in a moment, dogs that should have been wearing a collar in the first place, but I don’t think perpetrators of that kind of neglect and abuse were rationale behind the 2 finger rule.

As I say, I believe it’s more likely that the 2 finger rule came about for quite the opposite reason. It likely started due to people using flat collars on untrained dogs with a tendency to put them on too loosely and dogs were slipping out of them. It doesn’t take long either before wily dogs wearing flat collars figure out that pulling away from their owners and giving a bit of a corkscrew twist of their heads will slip the collar. Something that can’t happen if the collar is fitted for behind the ears and under the jaw with no more than two fingers slackness.

Even were the two finger rule to apply from the “too tight” perspective vs the too loose; it would still be a bad rule of thumb to dispense. Applying a 2 finger rule across the board when we have breed size diversity ranging from Great Danes vs a Jack Russell illustrates the point. Two fingers worth of slack on a Great Dane would have little impact on the positioning of the collar whereas with the Jack Russell would move a collar from behind the ears to down to the shoulders.

Another significant variable impacting collar fit and type for that matter is neck physiology. I’m thinking of breeds disproportionately muscled in the neck like a Jack Russell vs a few similarly sized breeds that have dangerously thin tracheas and/or esophaguses. The two finger rule in the latter case would provide insufficient protection as these breeds should very likely never wear collars, but rather harnesses.

Another impacting factor to further illustrate how the two finger rule is too general to rely on from a safety perspective is the surface area of a collar. Imagine a dog on a leash, catching an owner off guard and lunging towards a squirrel. The energy transferred down the leash and into the dog is going to impact that dog physically speaking more so on the basis of how broad an area that force is dissipated as opposed to how snug the collar is.

Even if the 2 finger rule was worthy, even a flat buckle collar, can damage if common sense isn’t used. A dog tied to a solid post allowed to freely lunge or the same dog at the end of a leash held by a 250 lb man intent on “correcting” the dog instead of teaching the dog is at risk of injury.

At best I think the “at least” 2 finger rule as opposed to the “no more than” 2 finger rule is something someone may have made up with the best of intentions, but if so they weren’t thinking it through.

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7 thoughts on “2 Finger Rule for Dog Collars”

  1. pwblade

    I think your article is troublesome because there are a lot of ignorance in the world . I encounter dogs all the time with their collars way too tight because the owners are attempting to train them. I’ve seen several videos online of supposedly sleepy dogs where in fact they were struggling to maintain consciousness because their collars restricted their air and blood flow. You also don’t give any mention to the dogs position . Have you ever put on a snug collar and then tried to lay down? If not you must have a dull sex life but anyhow it is very difficult and many folks have actually perished unintentionally while doing so i.e. Robin Williams. Whether what you’ve said is true or not K.I.S.S. keep it simple stupid because there are folks out there that have never worn a collar and there for have no empathy for the damage that can occur when your air and blood flow is restricted for any length of time i.e. brain damage causing behavior problems or worse of all death.

    1. I’m not sure how to respond. I think it would be fair to say considering I work with dogs full time and have for 30 years that I have had seen a lot of dogs and their dog collars and whereas you have “encountered dogs all the time with their collar way too tight”, I have never encountered that. Literally not once.

      Perhaps we differ as to the definition of “snug”. I suspect based on your comparing level of snugness to achieve erotica asphyxiation (auto or partner induced) to snugness of a dog training collar during training, that is the case.


  2. S Miller

    The problem, as I see it, is that it sounds as if people are using the flat buckle collar inappropriately. The leash should never be attached to this collar so the dog can pull and struggle against it and possibly slip out of it and get away. The flat collar should be used only for carrying the dog’s ID tags. For training purposes or going on walks, a different collar is used, but must be used judiciously, humanely and appropriately, preferably after some traing lessons with a professional trainer. I am talking about a slip-chain or prong-type collar. With proper use, a dog quickly learns not to pull against these training devices, and will walk happily beside the handler on a slack line. I trained dogs for 20 years and I never lost or injured a dog.

  3. Sally Bushhouse

    What I want to know is: how are the two fingers positioned under the collar when measuring? Lying flat against the dog’s fur, both fingers touching both fur and collar? Or with the wrist rotated 90 degrees, so that one finger is against the fur and the other against the collar?

    1. You’re over thinking it. Just make sure that the collar won’t slip over your dog’s head if your dog were to back away from you on a leash and perform a slight rotation corkscrew action with his or her head. That’s the physical act where people find out that where they thought the collar wouldn’t slip over their dogs head in an emergency it actually would. Two fingers for a Chihuahua vs a Great Dane, it’s just a rule of thumb (or couple of fingers.). For more information about collars see my other articles – Choosing The Best Dog Training Collar For Training Your Strong, Stubborn, Or High Drive Puppy Or Dog (Parts I & II of IV) and Choosing The Best Dog Training Collar For Training Your Strong, Stubborn, Or High Drive Puppy Or Dog REMEMBER – ‘It’s Not The Tool, It’s The Fool At The End Of The Tool’ Parts III & IV (of IV)


      John ‘Ask The Dog Guy’ Wade
      Embracing Science and Common Sense

    2. I don’t think you are overthinking it… You are actually thinking. I was wondering the same thing.

      1. Maybe not overthinking, but it is missing the point. The number of fingers is the misdirection and not the point. You could take it even further than Sally mentioned. Is it a man’s finger, a woman’s finger, a child’s finger being used? Too many variables for a hard and fast rule. Just put the collar on and adjust it so it doesn’t choke the dog out and won’t under any circumstance slip over the dog’s head.

        – John Wade (

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